The most embarrassing non-conference games of the 2023 season

Mike Huguenin03/08/23
Article written by:On3 imageMike Huguenin


From left, NC State coach Dave Doeren, Baylor coach Dave Aranda and Clemson coach Dabo Swinney (Photos from Getty Images)

We’re moving into the heart of “March Madness,” but that doesn’t mean we can’t throw some shade on a few college football programs. Today, we’re going to spotlight the most embarrassing non-conference games of the 2023 season, all involving FBS teams (in most cases Power 5 squads) playing FCS teams.

A couple of things:

• We know that some of the Power 5 teams we’re picking on do have some good non-conference games. And we’re aware that some of these spotlighted games were scheduled at the (relatively) last minute. But that in no way absolves anyone of blame. Fans have to shell out big bucks to see fare that, to steal an old lyric from Drive-By Truckers, is so disgusting that even wild dogs would disregard the bones.

• We have nothing against FCS football. We’re not averse to FBS/FCS games per se. What we don’t like are Power 5 teams – especially the ones with clout – scheduling games against bad FCS teams. “Bad” is the operative word. For the most part, Power 5 teams don’t want anything to do with top-level FCS programs. There are some exceptions, among them Boston College-Holy Cross on September 9, Michigan State-Richmond on September 9, Virginia-William & Mary on October 7 and Stanford-Sacramento State on September 16. (That has some extra spice because new Stanford coach Troy Taylor took Sac State to the FCS playoffs in 2022.)

But there are a heck of a lot more bad FBS-FCS games to choose from than good ones. Here are the 12 most cringe-worthy games this season involving FBS schools and FCS programs.

12. Lamar at ULM

Date: September 9
The buzz: OK, ULM certainly is no power. But Lamar? Lamar resurrected its football program in 2010 after a 20-year hiatus. The Cardinals have had two winning records in the ensuing 13 seasons – they were 1-10 last season – and have played 13 FBS opponents. They’ve lost all 13 and the average score was 55-7. Six times in those games they allowed at least 59 points, and twice the opponent exceeded 70. In its past five games against FBS teams, Lamar has been outscored 289-33 by New Mexico State (2022), SMU (2022), UTSA (2021), Texas Tech (2019) and Texas A&M (2018).

11. Robert Morris at Air Force

Date: September 2
The buzz: Forget the “weirdness” aspect of this game, where an FCS team from near Pittsburgh travels cross-country. (What, no West Coast or midwest FCS team was available?) Robert Morris has won 13 games in the past five seasons and is coming off an 0-11 season. In its past four games against FBS opponents, the Colonials have lost by a combined 129 points. In short, Air Force is going to open its season with a win.

10. Lafayette at Duke

Date: September 9
The buzz: Lafayette has had a losing record in 12 of the past 13 seasons; the one season with a winning mark was 2020, when it went 2-1. The Leopards have won 22 games in the past eight seasons. Duke won nine games last season. This will be just the third FBS opponent for Lafayette and the first game against a Power 5 school. Lafayette lost by 16 to Temple last season and by 21 to Air Force in 2021.

9. Idaho State at San Diego State

Date: September 2
The buzz: San Diego State plays host to UCLA on September 9, so the Aztecs presumably wanted an easy (mighty easy) tune-up the week before. Idaho State has won seven games in the past four seasons; the Bengals have five winning records this century and just seven since 1984. Idaho State won one game last season; it was its fifth one-win season in the past 15 years. These teams played last season, and SDSU won 38-7. That was one of five games in which Idaho State scored seven or fewer points.

8. Arkansas-Pine Bluff at Tulsa

Date: September 2
The buzz: Tulsa is coming off a tough season, but playing UAPB basically assures that new coach Kevin Wilson is going to open his tenure with a victory. UAPB has won 28 games in the past 10 seasons. And in its past six games against FBS opponents (Akron, Arkansas, Arkansas State, FIU, TCU and Oklahoma State), the Golden Lions have been outscored 302-32. That’s an average score of 50-5.

7. Abilene Christian at Texas A&M

Date: November 18
The buzz: Abilene Christian was an NAIA and Division II power, but it has struggled since moving to the FCS ranks in 2013. The Wildcats are coming off a 7-4 mark, but still have had losing records in six of the past eight seasons. In its past six games against FBS opponents, all losses, Abilene Christian has surrendered 272 points and three times allowed at least 51.

6. Portland State at Oregon

Date: September 2
The buzz: The campuses are about 110 miles apart, but the difference in the football programs is about the distance from the Earth to the moon. In its past three games against Pac-12 schools (Oregon, Washington and Washington State), Portland State was outscored 158-44. Portland State has won 26 games in the past seven seasons, and nine of those wins came in 2016.

5. Charleston Southern at Clemson

Date: September 9
The buzz: Since coach Jamey Chadwell left after an FCS playoff appearance in 2016, the Bucs have had just one winning record – and that was 6-5 in 2017. Charleston Southern has won eight games in the past three seasons. In six games against Power 5 foes since 2017, the Bucs have been outscored 312-26. Average score: 52-4. Charleston Southern began playing football in 1991 and has nine winning records in its history.

4. Long Island at Baylor

Date: September 16
The buzz: A team from Long Island traveling to Waco, Texas. We admit it: It made us chuckle. (If you’re Baylor, why not play an FCS team from Texas or Louisiana?) LIU moved up to FCS after the 2018 season; previously, it was a Division II program, known first as C.W Post, then LIU Post. The Sharks are 8-27 as an FCS team, and in five games against FBS opponents, they’ve been outscored 256-27.

3. North Alabama at Florida State

Date: November 18
The buzz: North Alabama was a Division II power, but it hasn’t found its footing since moving to FCS after the 2017 season. The Lions were 1-10 last season. They have won eight games in the past four seasons and been beaten by a combined 167-34 in four games against FBS foes. One of those was a 59-0 loss to Memphis last season. This will be North Alabama’s first game against a Power 5 school. For FSU, this matchup comes a week after a game with Miami and a week before a game at Florida.

2. Wagner at Rutgers

Date: September 30
The buzz: Come on. Wagner was 1-10 last season and has won two games in the past four seasons. (OK, the 2020 season was just two games, but the Seahawks still are 2-34 since the start of 2019.) Wagner has 17 victories in the past eight seasons. Wagner has played four FBS schools in the past two seasons, losing all four by a combined 235-21. The Seahawks allowed 41, 59, 66 and 69 points in those games. Rutgers beat Wagner 66-7 last season. That accounted for 31.5 percent of the Scarlet Knights’ points in 2022.

1. VMI at NC State

Date: September 16
The buzz: VMI is coming off a one-win season, and the Keydets have had two winning records since 1981. (Yes, you read that right: Two winning records since 1981.) In its past six games against FBS teams, VMI has been outscored 356-43. Average score: 59-7. This one is scheduled for the week after NC State plays host to Notre Dame. Without checking, we’re comfortable saying this is the first time a school has hosted Notre Dame and VMI in back-to-back weeks.